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If The Rangers Plan To Get Back In This Series, Riding Their Best Players Would Be A Good Start

SmithSkjei

AV took a lot of heat early in Round 1 after questionably shortening his defensive rotation & choking away Game 2. While Skjei & Smith got just a single shift in the final 5:30 of regulation, Staal & Holden were trusted to protect a lead that vanished with seconds left on the clock. That pairing was on for all 3 Habs tallies in the first 60 minutes with 42 & 76 both +1. Yes, Skjei & Smith were on the ice for the OT loser – but that’s the first & last goal against that pair has been on for over 8 postseason games. This crumbling led to Vigneault scratching Holden for a night which is about as much as you can scapegoat a player after such a loss. Rightfully so.

Fast forward to today. Brady Skjei leads the team in goals & although he got walked once Saturday which resulted in a puck in the back of his own net (Lundqvist made the initial save & several Rangers could’ve picked up the trailer), he also made two outstanding defensive plays as the last line of defense between a Grade-A scoring chance & Hank. Brendan Smith has been a lightning rod with sound all-around play & a mean streak. Yet fans are still scratching their heads over yet another collapse that ended with the pair sitting for almost all of the final 13 minutes of regulation as Ottawa clawed their way back from a third 2-goal deficit before another egregious Nick Holden effort in double OT put the Rangers down 2-0 in the series.

Inexcusable.

Vigneault said this morning “That is the job of a coach, sometimes you give them some more rope to see if they can get going…guys that have proven in the past, with that experience, big time experience have more rope than others.” Maybe he was referring to his forwards here and how Lindberg & Buchnevich were phased out of their Game 2 loss – but there’s no “big time experience” to rely on for Nick Holden. Skjei’s got just as much career postseason run & Smith’s got more than both of them combined. Both have had big moments while Holden’s had big blunders. So why is his leash seemingly infinite while a rookie & a deadline acquisition are producing all over the rink yet might as well be fans in the stands when it matters most? If coach can’t figure out how to use his rope he might as well just tie a noose.

Come on, AV. You adjusted very well in the first round after a pair of L’s. I don’t know how you allowed yourself to be painted in the same exact corner, but here we are. There’s no numbers or eyeballs that support anything other than Skjei & Smith being this teams best overall tandem. Even if you somehow think that’s smoke & mirrors there’s no denying Holden & Staal have been the worst. Give the young, energetic pair a shot. McDonagh is already saddled with Girardi (who, to his credit, has been a warrior all playoffs but struggled Saturday) so there’s only so much the top two can do. 18 & 22 have both been largely abysmal. Why not ride the most complete defensive pairing you’ve got?

Maybe Skjei & Smith won’t help. Maybe they look so good because AV’s protecting them. Maybe Lindberg, Buch or any other young forward whose seen time in AV’s doghouse will be exposed with regular ice time. But at some point as a coach you have to acknowledge your “trustworthy” players aren’t doing a good enough job and the only way someone can step in & pick their team up is if they’re given the opportunity. Look at what the Penguins did last year. Conor who? Bryan who? Matt who? I’m not saying success is as simple as the distribution of ice time. But if this Rangers season ends short of a conference final, don’t tell me these guys you’ve been pasting to the bench couldn’t have made a difference when you didn’t even let them try.